Manchester City have been drawn to play Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League play-off round, as they aim to qualify for the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition for a sixth successive season.
The first game of the two legged tie is due to take place in Bucharest at the Stadionul Steaua, which is Romania’s national stadium.
Pep seeks Champions League success with City
Whilst City reached the semi-finals of the Champions League last season under Manuel Pellegrini, before they were beaten 1-0 on aggregate by Real Madrid, their new manager Pep Guardiola will aim to guide the club all the way to the final of this season’s competition. That is due to be held at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff on 3 June 2017.
Guardiola has previously won the Champions League twice as a manager, with Barcelona in 2009 & 2011, as the Catalan giants beat Manchester United in the final on both occasions.
Nevertheless in each of the four previous seasons of the Champions League, Guardiola has not faired so well, having lost at the semi-final stage – three times as manager of Bayern Munich and once before then, when in charge of Barca.
A brief insight into Steaua
Whilst City have never won either the Champions League, or the European Cup as the competition was formerly known until 1992, their play-off opponents Steaua Bucharest have on one occasion. That was in 1986, whilst the club managed Laurentiu Reghecampf, also finished as European Cup runners-up in 1989.
Last season Steaua failed to reach the group stages of the Champions League, as they were eliminated in the play-off round by Rosenborg, 3-1 on aggregate.
Nevertheless, it was by that same score line that the Romanian side beat Sparta Prague in the third qualifying round of this season’s competition to secure their passage to the play-off round where they will now face City.
A quartet of Steaua’s players were in Romania’s Euro 2016 squad. Each of Alexandru Chipicu, Mihai Pintilii, Adrian Popa and Nicolae Stanciu – a 23-year-old scored, who scored all three of Steaua’s goals against Sparta Prague – featured for Angel Iordanescu in France.
Whilst Steaua earned their place in the 2016-2017 Champions League by finishing second behind Astru Giurgiu in Romania’s Liga 1, Manchester City did so as a result of a fourth place finish in the English Premier League.
Romanians in fine early season form
Ultimately although Manchester City are strong favourites to overcome Steaua and progress to the group stages of the Champions League, the Romanians are both tough opponents and in extremely fine early season form, since as well as producing two impressive performances against Sparta Prague, they also won their first competitive domestic game of the season by beating Viiturol 3-1.
Therefore Steaua will provide a stern test for Manchester City, who have never previously had to play a qualifying round to reach the group stages of the Champions League.
The opportunity to do so this season may be welcomed by Guardiola, so that the 45-year-old Spaniard can fine tune the system which he would like his Mancester City team to play in European Competition.